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Mima Mendoza: Spearheading Change After Typhoon Ketsana

MPA Environmental Science and Policy student Mima Mendoza

Growing up in the Philippines, Mima Mendoza, a current student in Columbia’s Environmental Science and Policy masters program, got her bachelor’s degree in European Studies (International Relations) with honors from Ateneo De Manila University.

Anushree Kedia, a recent graduate of the Sustainability Management program, interviewed Mima to learn more about her journey in climate negotiations, Greenpeace advocacy, and life as a Columbia University student.

How did you get involved in environmental policy? 

When I was in college, I was working towards being a diplomat with the Foreign Services in the Philippines. Through my coursework, I had already focused on climate policy, but my interest really piqued when I experienced the detrimental impact of  Typhoon Ketsana.

When my city was hit by Typhoon Ketsana, I got involved in setting up a disaster relief hub at the university. The magnitude of devastation Ketsana left in its wake led me to look more closely at how climate change policy could help mitigate such crises.

Mima with Philippine Climate Commissioner Naderev Sano during the 19th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19) in Warsaw November 23, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

After college, I was selected to work on the delegation for Philippines in climate negotiations by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  Through this experience, I had the honor of being part of the delegation negotiating the Paris Agreement.  I served on the delegation for five years – beginning as a youth delegate, and leaving as an adviser.

My work after UNFCC with Greenpeace Southeast Asia (GPSEA) allowed me to go back to my roots and work on anti-coal and anti-single use plastic campaigns. I also had the opportunity to work with some of my mentors, including Yeb Saño, who is currently the executive director of GPSEA and former vice minister of the Philippine Climate Change Commission; and Jasper Inventor, the current programme director of GPSEA and former adviser to the Philippines Delegation to the UNFCCC.

What led you to pursue a masters in  MPA-ESP at Columbia University?

In my former roles, I learned a lot on the job and from my colleagues, but I realized that I needed a formal structure and a solid foundation to strengthen my understanding in science and economics.

My work experiences also made me realize that there was quite a gap in the climate movement, because of a disconnect between facts and reality. So in addition to developing technical expertise, I also wanted to be able to communicate effectively with the right stakeholders.

The MPA-ESP program at the School of International and Public Affairs offered the opportunity to develop the perfect combination of the skillsets. It is a very practical, hands-on program, which specializes in connecting technical expertise with policy.

What is your involvement on campus?

I serve as the Chair of Communications committee for the ESP Student Government. In our effort to explore issues and topics of high interest to the student body and communicate that to a wider audience, we decided to produce a podcast series—Greener on the Other Side. This has allowed me to practice what I am learning in my coursework through interactive communication. Just recently, we launched our first episode focusing on the issue of natural disasters.

This issue is very close to my heart, and I really loved working on it. This podcast also gave the committee a platform to reach out to experts at Columbia University. I was amazed to see the level of engagement that this podcast received. From detailed planning to execution, it feels as if my background and the training at Columbia has merged beautifully.

What has been your favorite part of the program?

My favorite experience to date has been the summer semester, as it challenged me to outdo myself. I was not well-versed in science prior to the semester. The topics we covered in the summer—including chemistry, ecology, climatology, and hydrology—allowed me to understand the technical side of sustainability. I had wanted to strengthen my scientific understanding, and I was immediately able to do so during my first semester. I also enjoyed the field trips a lot. One particularly interesting one was a trip to a sanitation plant that really brought to life real-world challenges we learn about in class.

Additionally, I love being around my cohort—everyone has such a unique background! It is great to be able to learn from them as well as my professors. It opens up your mind to a lot of new things and new ideas.

What are your plans after completing your degree?

I hope to continue working in the climate change field with a focus on practical application and implementation. The Paris Agreement was a huge success that led to the emphasis on climate change mitigation. But it came with its own set of challenges, particularly on the implementation side. This is the core of my focus.

I am driven to become a part of the global community that effects change, and contribute to the implementation of climate change mitigation strategies.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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